by Emma Shores

Everyone with a smartphone has the power to become a videographer. Shooting video can be intimidating at first, but I promise you, it’s fairly simple once you learn a few tips and tricks. The most important thing is just to get started!

As a rule of thumb, shoot your footage horizontally, so that when you download it to your video editing software, it’s ready to go. (If you shoot vertically and then want a horizontal video, the frame will become cropped and could ruin the integrity of the footage.) And don’t let the mention of editing software scare you. There are several inexpensive (or free) programs available that are easy to learn. I’ve found that Movie Maker, which comes with Apple products, is the easiest to use if you don’t have any experience.

To ensure a steady video, try placing or leaning your phone against a stable surface like a table or desk. Better still, invest in a mini tripod. There are many different options out there starting as low as $10 that are small enough to fit in a handbag or briefcase. If you don’t have a tripod or a stable surface available, try to hold your phone with both hands and a relaxed body. A personal trick I use is holding my triceps against my body for stability.

It’s also important to make sure you have good lighting. Yellowish lighting indoors can prevent your video from looking professional. For a higher-quality look, use natural lighting or an LED light when shooting your video. If you’re shooting indoors, try not to place your subject with their back to a window, as the back light will cast shadows onto your subject. If a window is available, face your subject directly toward the window.

Try a variety of different setups to see which works best with your phone. Using your rear camera lens will typically produce higher-quality footage than using your front-facing camera lens, however audio quality without a microphone is often better when the microphone is facing toward the subject. Do a few different takes and see what works best when you load the footage into your editing software.

In terms of audio, the location of your shoot is key. Try to choose an area that won’t echo if your subject is speaking. Large, tall buildings or empty rooms with high ceilings and hard surfaces, like marble, will make audio trickier to perfect than a smaller room with lower ceilings, furniture, and carpet.

When looking at the shooting capabilities your smartphone has, try to shoot in 4k or the highest resolution your phone has available. You can find these options in the settings on your smartphone camera. Also, try not to zoom in if possible. Instead, place your phone closer to the subject you’re shooting. This will provide the clearest and highest-quality shot. In terms of exposure, many phones also have the option to adjust and lock the exposure prior to hitting ‘record.’ Play with these settings to find what works best in each shoot location.

Lastly, have fun! If you’re behind the scenes or in front of the camera, it’s important to relax. Making your subject comfortable will help you produce a better video. Try changing up your shots until you find what works, and always be sure to shoot more than one take of each video!

Want to learn more? Check out these links with more expert tips on how to shoot video on your smartphone:

Emma Shores serves as the marketing coordinator for Risk Placement Services, Inc. (RPS), where she is responsible for team operations, finances, social and earned media amplification, internal communications, and assisting with creative marketing initiatives to help enable core values of RPS. Prior, Emma interned on Capitol Hill in the House of Representatives, interned with NBC Universal Pictures and interned with Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Emma is a recent graduate of Illinois State University, where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in political science and public relations. Emma currently serves on the Awards and Recognition committee for the Insurance Marketing & Communication Association.

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At the 2019 IMCA Showcase Awards, UFG Insurance won Best in Show in the “Creative Development on a Shoestring” category for a video the company created for Ohio agents. The goal? To quickly and effectively inform these agents about a state supreme court ruling regarding faulty workmanship and insurance. Alissa Carson, a marketing project manager at UFG, answered our questions about the company’s winning entry.

What made you decide to submit this project to IMCA’s Showcase Awards? Did you know it was a winner?
This question made my colleagues and me laugh. We submitted the project on a whim, one last Hail Mary because we could easily answer the questions [on the submission form] and we had already collected the analytics. Never in a million years did we imagine our video would win. We’re not saying we didn’t think it was quality work. Our entry had a good story and immediacy factor behind it, and our creative team hit the ground running by completing all development and production in house. (The video was emailed to UFG agents within one week from start to finish!) But we didn’t expect it to win.

What gave you the idea for this video?
The idea to do this project came from our corporate attorney. He knew the endorsement we added to construction policies was already in place, our product team didn’t have to create anything new, and no new policy language had to be added—the time to market our product in an incredibly positive light was now or never.

Your entry cited strong open and click rates when it was sent last October. Do you have any anecdotes about how it helped your agents?
While UFG has been around for nearly 75 years, we’re a newer carrier in Ohio. The video provides our boots-on-the ground marketing team a quick hitter to share with our independent agents in the state. Sometimes marketing representatives only have a few minutes in an agency’s office, and videos give them the opportunity to share a message in an impactful way. In addition, a video is one of the easiest things to send through email or drop into your email signature line. What we provide is a simple solution to a complicated scenario. Our video also provides our agents with a tool they can share with their clients that explains our solution. It allowed our agents to provide peace of mind to their clients who may have never realized they wouldn’t be covered for the faulty work of a subcontractor—UFG has them covered and, better yet, it’s a long-standing solution we’ve had in place.

How did the Best of Show recognition impact your in-house creative team?
We’re able to use the Best of Show recognition to continually showcase not only the exceptionally creative work our team completes, but prove that it is effective, too. We go beyond “prettying something up,” which we’ve all heard a time or two. We’re able to make an impact and the Best of Show recognition just confirmed what we already knew as a team—day in and day out, we’re creating marketing communication messages that make a difference to our bottom line. At the end of the day, the Best in Show recognition builds our in-house creative team’s confidence when having conversations with teams throughout our organization.  

Any advice for people considering submitting to Showcase?
Submit those projects you may consider a “Hail Mary.” Those projects are the ones that just might solidify what you already knew—you have a professional, hardworking team. When writing your submission, make sure you include both qualitative and quantitative information, especially any analytics.

Most important, have fun doing it. The IMCA Showcase Awards isn’t a time to hold back showcasing your team’s work. After your team wins, make sure you push the message to the masses through your intranet, meetings, and emails. It’s the right time to toot your horn.

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VGM Insurance Services, an insurance agency based in Waterloo, Iowa, cleaned up at the 2019 IMCA Showcase Awards, bringing home Best of Show trophies in the Employee Corporate Communications, Corporate Audio/Visual Communications, Audio/Visual Communications More than 1 Minute, and Total Sales/Marketing/Branding Campaign Less than $15,000 categories—plus an Award of Excellence in the Corporate Communications Campaign category.

Rachel Harris, VGM’s director of marketing, said, “As a small organization competing against companies that dwarf us in size, resources, and budget, it means so much for VGM Insurance to make our mark on the industry in this way. It shows that creativity, innovation, and a well-thought-out strategy can be just as valuable as a large budget and a household brand name. It’s encouraging to be recognized by our peers and the industry as marketing thought leaders, and it keeps us striving to be our best and produce our best work every single day.”

Harris encourages companies of all sizes to submit their work to the 2020 IMCA awards. IMCA recently caught up with Harris to learn more about her experience.

What made you decide to submit this project? Did you know it was a winner?
We have submitted work to the IMCA Showcase Awards for the past two years, and have found that sometimes the projects you least expect turn out to be the biggest winners. In 2019, we submitted seven entries and won five, which was an amazing accomplishment that we never would have expected. When reviewing your work from the year, I think it’s important to evaluate it from an outsider’s perspective. Try to put yourself in the judges’ shoes, viewing your work for the first time. As marketers, we are usually so involved in the creation of the work that it loses its ‘sparkle’ for us. We’ve scrutinized the tiniest details to the point that we sometimes aren’t able to see the work from a bigger picture anymore. From our experience, I think it’s important to broaden your scope when submitting your entries—throw in a couple of wildcard entries and see what happens! You may just be surprised.

How did the Best of Show recognition impact your team? 
The impact of winning IMCA Showcase awards has been enormous for our company and for our marketing team. Winning Best of Show in four categories in 2019 was an accomplishment beyond our team’s wildest dreams. It provided so much validation that what they do every day matters. Receiving recognition from industry peers, leaders, and organizations that we respect and look up to has encouraged our team to keep pushing boundaries, thinking outside the box, and working together to make an impact for our customers and partners in the work we do. It has fired us up to push every project we work on to the next level—to make it the very best it can be with the resources we have available. We have had such a positive experience with the IMCA Showcase Awards and will continue submitting our work for years to come!

Any advice for people considering submitting to Showcase?
I think it’s important for marketers to take the leap, be brave, and put themselves out there by submitting their work to Showcase. It can feel a bit scary at first, especially if you have a small team, or if you are the team, but in my experience the rewards are so worth it! At the very least, you’ll receive some helpful feedback from the judges with ways you can improve your work, process, strategy, or results moving forward.

In terms of putting together your entry submissions, it’s important to be prepared. Take your time. Plan your responses carefully. Tell the story behind your work. Your word count is limited, so make those words count! It’s also crucial to back up your results with evidence. Gather examples and data that show the impact your work had and how it relates to your goals.

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At the 2019 annual conference, IMCA announced the winners of our inaugural Rising Star Award. This new award celebrates industry professionals, 33 years of age or younger, who are already standing out as leaders at their companies. They’ve established a professional track record and demonstrated a commitment to the insurance industry. While many IMCA members are seasoned insurance professionals, award recipients must have entered the insurance industry within the last five years.

If you haven’t met these three impressive professionals, here’s your chance.

A career-making game

Hailey Willett’s insurance career started in an unusual way: over a game of euchre in college with students who were majoring in risk management and insurance. Intrigued by their conversation, Hailey changed her major to risk management with a minor in journalism and mass communications. Two internships later, in 2016, she joined Frankenmuth Insurance’s marketing department full time. Today, Hailey manages a number of communications channels for the Michigan-based carrier including its social media and blog, as well as agent and employee communications. But where Hailey has really made her mark is managing the company’s online reputation, a challenge that many insurance companies grapple with.

“Hailey gets it,” says Maureen Lafrinere, a marketing manager at Frankenmuth, who nominated Hailey for the award. “She has spot-on judgment regarding our company’s image in the marketplace.”

Understanding the importance of online reviews and presence to Frankenmuth’s branding efforts and its independent agents’ ability to present the company’s products and services to potential customers, Hailey worked with her team to develop a strategy for maintaining a strong, positive brand image and reputation. She focused on building a series of responses to address consumer questions, concerns, and comments on its social media channels and online review platforms. Working with internal partners, she responded quickly and fairly to online reviews or comments.

This year, Hailey’s goal was for Frankenmuth to reach or maintain 3/5 Google stars with 50% positive reviews or better. As of December 2019, her efforts have helped the company meet both goals with 3/5 Google stars. In addition, 54% of Frankenmuth’s online reviews expressed positive sentiment.

Introducing marketing

In contrast, IMCA Rising Star Megan Bell had several years of marketing experience under her belt when she joined Rhode Island-based Falvey Insurance in 2017. New to the insurance industry, as well as to Falvey, Megan’s challenge was to build a marketing department for the specialty line carrier and its three subsidiaries.

Megan started by implementing Falvey’s first-ever marketing plan. Although an insurance novice, she was able to identify ways to better support the company’s underwriters. To drive new leads, she developed a Google ads campaign. In one instance, she targeted the ads against a long-time competitor in the vessel pollution market.

Megan also implemented two broker partner programs, supported by co-branded sell sheets, landing pages, presentations, and videos. Together these programs generated more than $17 million in premium for the company’s cargo division.

Megan is particularly proud of the work she’s done with Falvey’s continuing education (CE) program. Prior to Megan’s arrival, the company used print and snail mail to promote these educational opportunities and to communicate with participants. Megan automated the registration process by bringing everything online and cut the cost-per-participant by almost 50%. More important, the experience is co-branded with an e-invitation, designated landing page, and email communications. A participant survey has given instructors valuable feedback they were previously missing. According to Megan, the CE program enhancements served as a great example of underwriting and marketing working together and demonstrated to long-term employees that change could be positive.

“Megan is a unique marketer because she has both right- and left-brain skills,” says Michael Falvey, the company’s president and CEO, who nominated her for the award. “She has been unequivocally successfully with Falvey’s marketing efforts.”

For marketers who are new to insurance like she was, Megan advises they attend as many meetings as possible to get to know the company’s key people, understand what’s important to them, and start to speak the industry language. She also points to industry events and, of course, IMCA as great learning opportunities.

Pushing beyond expectations
A commitment to providing best-in-class service and quality communications has distinguished Ashley Heline at Texas-based Argo Group. During the three-plus years this Rising Star has been with the specialty line insurer, she has steadily moved up the communications and marketing ranks, taking on greater responsibility as she ascends.

Ashley’s decision to stretch herself beyond the traditional media relations role is what led Argo’s David Snowden, the insurer’s senior vice president for communications, to nominate her for the award.

“Ashley has grown her skill set as a passionate and effective marketer and communicator as well as embraced new challenges and opportunities to help Argo excel as a leading specialty insurer,” he says. “She has taken on accumulative responsibilities and new challenges with ease.”

Progressing from her initial position as communications coordinator to public relations specialist, Ashley oversaw the company’s U.S. and international media relations efforts. In her new role, she developed and executed media relations strategies for key lines of business and subject matter experts. By raising the level of proactive media activities, Ashley increased coverage, particularly with top-tier media outlets.

Last year, Ashley helped expand Argo’s thought leadership program. Her media relations effort resulted in 800+ earned media clips in 2018. As a complement to her media relations strategy, she executed a proactive strategy to pitch and submit company leadership for speaking engagements at top insurance industry events such as RIMS, PLUS, Joint Industry Forum, InsureTech Connect, and FT Live events.

Another accomplishment is Ascend With Argo, a newly developed program created to foster lasting relationships with external clients by providing educational and networking opportunities for early career insurance professionals so they can learn more about the industry. Today, Ashley focuses on this program full-time and plays a key role in developing, designing, planning, executing, and measuring the success of the learning and development opportunities.

If you know of or work with a rising star, be on the lookout for IMCA’s award submission forms, which will be available beginning in the spring.

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Many of us start the new year with a New Year’s resolution. Here’s what several IMCA Board members want to do better—or differently—with their marketing teams in 2020.

“In 2020, it’s all about seeing clearly and I’m ready to plan, plan, plan for better ROI all around. A lot of what we do in the marketing world can be spontaneous. In order to increase audience engagement, we need more strategic planning for the future. I resolve to step outside my content comfort zone and with every piece of content I create. Every project I start will have a very clear and very specific purpose.” 
Hadie Bartholomew
Media Content Leader
Westfield Group

 “I vow to start every engagement with the end in will we measure and prove a positive ROI for our efforts.”
Jim Flynn
Chief Brand Strategist

“I resolve to be a more mindful marketer, to be fully present, open to ideas, more strategic, and proactive. Marketing is a process, not a project.”
Valerie Foster
Director of Marketing
Berkley Alliance Managers

“In preparing a summary of 2019 activities, I realized that my department is moving so fast that we tend to forget how much we are actually accomplishing. I resolve to be better at celebrating the successes during the year and visibly post so we can all enjoy our incredible productivity.”
Stacey Rebbert
Director, Marketing & Corporate Communication
Harford Mutual

“I resolve to find new and different ways to reach our clients and provide thoughtful information in 2020.”
Jessica Marshall
Director of Marketing
CRC Group
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There’s no question, content marketing is hot. Over the past 20 years, digital has moved content well beyond its traditional print boundaries. Content is far more cost effective and targeted than traditional advertising and offers a greater ability to control your message than media relations.

Often a strategist is leading the content charge within a marketing department. Based on business goals and user needs, the content strategist plans, develops, and delivers clear, relevant content that brings goals and needs together. Content governance is also part of this role.

Creating content is the least of the strategist’s responsibilities. A content strategist ensures that content across all channels reflects consistent messaging and tone of voice, is audience relevant and on brand. The strategist collaborates with the UX team to map out the user journey. He or she also identifies the appropriate KPIs to track, analyzes metrics, and contributes to SEO and SEM strategy.

The content strategist is a busy person who often doesn’t exist in an insurance marketing department, particularly those where team members wear multiple hats. But not having a dedicated content strategist doesn’t mean that your department should forgo content strategy.

In developing a content strategy, it’s important to understand what content can—and cannot—do.

Strengths and weaknesses

“Content marketing is excellent for building reputation and trust, as well as brand awareness, understanding and appreciation—usually over a longperiod of time,” says IMCA board member Peter van Aartrijk, who runs an eponymous content marketing firm.

Content is only as valuable as your customers and prospects perceive it. IMCA board member Clif Simmons, who is a UX strategist at Allstate, advises marketers to think about: “Who are you creating the content for? Really put yourself in their shoes. What are they worried about? What challenges do they face? What questions are they asking?”

Of course there are times when content just isn’t the answer. For example, in situations where you need quick results. And no matter how compelling your white paper or video is, visitors to your conference booth will inevitably be more interested in your giveaways.

“You can’t expect content to sell an account immediately, although it can create sales opportunities,” Peter says. “Content is a long-term approach, while sales is more short-term focused.”

Road map

Content creation is often confused with content strategy. This is an issue, though, since content created outside a strategy framework is rarely effective.

IMCA Board member Amy Hourigan, who is also director of marketing and communications at HAI Group, defines content strategy as “…a framework for prioritizing your content marketing efforts in a way that’s meaningful for your audience and your brand. It ensures that the content you create will resonate with the audience you’re targeting, that it will get seen.”

Many content blogs advise that one of the initial steps in developing a content strategy is to set goals and identify KPIs. Clif takes a different approach.

“When setting goals, the customer needs to come first,” Clif says. “You can’t achieve content marketing success if the customer doesn’t understand you. Content needs to make things clear for them.”

Amy seconds that approach.

“Storytelling is at the heart of great content, and telling a great story is impossible without empathy,” she says. “To have empathy for your audience, you have to have a really good idea of who they are and what keeps them up at night.”

Think and act like a strategist

As marketing department head at HAI Group, Amy also handles the content strategist’s role. To keep the focus on the customer, Amy and her team craft data-driven personas to better understand HAI Group’s target audience and what will drive them to take action. She also finds journey mapping to be a useful tool for filling in her department’s editorial calendar and identifying gaps.

A content audit can also be a useful strategic exercise. As an example, Amy reports that her team’s recent audit revealed that they had a lot of top-of-the funnel pieces but were missing sales-enablement tools for certain products at the decision and purchasing stages.

A content audit should also look at your content from an audience perspective.

“You want to be sure you understand your identified target audiences and what makes them tick,” says Peter. “It’s important to know how they get their information and what they genuinely think of your company and its products.”

The two U’s

When you’re juggling multiple responsibilities, it’s easy to forget about the role of UX in supporting content.

“We understand that great design not only means creating a pleasant visual experience, but also an enjoyable interactive one,” says Amy. “If you want to delight your audience, remember that content, UX, and graphic design all play a role in creating the ultimate user experience.”

In addition to UX, Clif sees content strategy touching on UI as well. He believes that button labeling should give the user a sense of what they’ll see next. Rather than the ubiquitous “click here” and “learn more,” he prefers more specific labels such as “Sign up now” or “Let’s build your policy.”

Get organized

Website taxonomy—content organization—is another critical area that may get short shift without a content strategist. Amy advises insurance marketers to pay attention to the way they name and categorize content. The goal is to make it easier for your audience—and your team—to find what they’re looking for. As an additional benefit, good content organization makes it easier to find and update stale content.

At Allstate, Clif keeps a content matrix in an Excel document that he updates on a weekly basis. It allows his team to quickly see what’s been previously said along with what can no longer be used and why.

Learn more

Staying on top of content marketing best practices and trends is tough if content isn’t your full-time job. As Clif points out, the web is a great source of free information, pointing specifically to HubSpot, Udemy, Skillshare, and YouTube. He also finds Rosenfeld Media to be a good educational resource.

Amy says the Content Market Institute is her “go-to” resource. She also sets aside time in her schedule every day to read up on the latest trends and case studies on content marketing and related topics, such as SEO.

In addition to these resources, the IMCA website has several content-related presentations from our 2019 annual conference.

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by Insurance Marketing & Communications Association

In a red-hot job market, communications and marketing leaders who are looking to replace someone or add to their team have their work cut out for them.

Of course, the reality of today’s market doesn’t stop some hiring managers—or their bosses—from turning a search for a new employee into a hunt for the elusive purple squirrel that, like your perfect job candidate, don’t exist. It’s hard enough to find someone who has the necessary skills, an insurance background, and is a cultural fit for your company, much less a candidate who is as perfect in person as they are on paper.

In certain local markets, it’s a business-as-usual challenge to find a communications and marketing pro who also has industry-specific experience and knowledge.

“In Dallas, it’s tough to find someone who knows both insurance and marketing,” explains Mike Stahl, CMO, UnitedHealthcare. “So we focus on hiring good marketers and then teaching them insurance.”

Even in markets with multiple insurance company headquarters, the economic boom has made it harder to find someone with the right mix of insurance background and marketing savvy. In the initial stages of a recent search, Emily Hathcoat, a vice president of marketing at Risk Placement Services, wanted to see candidates who had an insurance affinity program background. Emily quickly realized she had narrowed her candidate pool too much by being so specific.

Emily acknowledges that sometimes an insurance background is critical, especially when your department is small. Before you downgrade that requirement, she recommends considering your department’s deliverables and timeframe to determine whether you can devote additional time for a new team member who will be in the early stages of climbing the industry learning curve.

Marketing your job

Because the posted job description is often a candidate’s introduction to your company and/or department, both Mike and Emily believe it’s important to get the wording right.

“Think of your job description as a high-value piece of content,” Emily advises. “And remember, it’s a scanning world.” With many candidates coming in via online job boards, she also recommends using the right keywords and thinking of your job description from an SEO perspective.

Mike views job descriptions as a good opportunity to define what his department really needs. “You need to first determine what skill sets or expertise your department is lacking. Once you’ve done that, then you can then look for the right person,” he notes.

Today’s online job descriptions often have an informal, conversational tone; some even have quirky job titles like “Brand Warrior” or “Director of Storytelling.” Emily and Mike both caution about taking this approach if it’s out of character with your company’s culture.

Rethink your approach

Other than stopping your search for purple squirrels, what can insurance communicators and marketers do to find quality job candidates in a candidate-driven market? Here are three ways to make the process more productive.

Cast a wider (and more realistic) net. Job requirements should help you find a great candidate, not chase them away. Will someone do a better job because they have 8-10 years of experience versus 5-7? Emily points out that many digital marketing roles haven’t existed very long. So a search for someone with 15 years of marketing automation experience probably won’t get you very far.

Build a candidate pipeline. Don’t wait for someone to give two weeks’ notice to identify your next department member. Use industry events and conferences as an opportunity to market your department and speak with potential hires. Mike finds that an advantage of working with an outside recruiter to fill positions is that they know the local marketing talent. This gives them a head start in identifying potential hires for your team.

Speed up the process. Who doesn’t have a painful story about a six-month interview process? Speak with your boss, colleagues, and human resources about ways you can make the process more efficient. For example, less critical one-on-one interviews can be consolidated into a team interview. The process will also feel faster to candidates if human resources sends them regular process updates via text or email.

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by Clifton Simmons

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  Maya Angelou

To my knowledge, author and poet Maya Angelou never worked in user experience (UX) design, but her quote aptly summarizes the empathy effect of UX. Users won’t recall your content verbatim and they’ll only remember your good design as it relates to their ease of navigation. Put another way: Users only care about their experiences.

Compared to many brands, insurance brands probably struggle harder to achieve this kind of connectiveness with customers, which is why an empathic approach to design is so important. When you think about it, UX design as it relates to insurance has two goals regarding customers:

  1. Get people to do things they may not want to do, even if it’s good for them. People need to protect themselves from the “what-if’s” in life. What if the house burns down? What if you die? Yes, they’re important questions. And no, they don’t make pleasant family dinner conversations.
  2. When the “what-if’s” happen, UX is often on the front lines helping customers get through some of the more difficult situations in life. Then we’re the reassuring voice that says, “We’re going to get you through this.”

Getting you to do things that are good for you… Helping you through tough times… Sounds like things any parent can identify with. That’s why I jokingly refer to moms and dads as “the accidental architects of empathy and UX design.”
Can't get "know" satisfaction?

When it comes to UX design, customer satisfaction is everything, so empathy is a critical skill. Your interactions with the user must be open, transparent, informative, and warm. The formula is simple:

Empathy + UXD = deeper user satisfaction

By definition, empathy is the ability to understand other people’s feelings. In marketing, you do this by learning how to put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Know them by growing your awareness of shared emotions.

Empathy is often confused with sympathy. By definition, sympathy is showing concern or compassion for someone else without fully understanding why they are reacting this way. Not the same.

Insurance marketers shouldn’t make the mistake that empathy creates authenticity. To be authentic, you’re sharing a genuine truth about your brand, hoping it connects with users. It’s still asking them to understand you first, where an empathic approach is the reverse.

Walking in someone else’s shoes

To help identify user needs, Allstate has a human-centered design exercise called “Walk A Mile Immersion.” It involves these steps:

  • Identify stakeholders. In this particular case, see customers as your top stakeholders to build a shared understanding of them with your UX team.
  • Gain new perspectives through interviews. It’s easier to empathize with customers when you hear from them directly.
  • Affinity clustering. As you examine responses and data, patterns reveal themselves. Often, they challenge your personal assumptions and bias, helping you engage your customers with fresh approaches.
  • Create opportunities with statement starters. Finally, take a step toward solving the problem by asking the right questions. Don’t start a project with a dictatorial statement like, “We need an easier way for customers to file claims on their smartphones.” Instead, frame it as a question: How might we help customers file claims easily on their smartphones? This encourages solutions that take in customer needs, based on information you’ve collected. For Allstate, such questioning led to updates to our QuickFoto Claim application, which helped increase claims processing from 3,400 to 66,000 per month in the first three months of the update.

Empathy can be taught

We can develop insightfulness to connect to people different than ourselves. Empathy can be taught if marketers regularly put in the work. Don’t just read a data report – interact with your customers. UX design is never ending, because our customers are always requesting, “Get to know me.”

In the end, are you willing to forgo a pet project that advances your performance goals in favor of something that addresses your customers’ needs? If you don’t, they’ll find another brand that better empathizes with them.

Clifton Simmons is UX content lead at Allstate who — in his own words — transitioned from “ad man to app man.” For more than 20 years, Clif worked at large ad agencies creating campaigns for USAA and Chevy. He credits his experience as a creative supervisor as leading to his move into UX. Clif was a speaker at IMCA’s 2019 annual conference and serves on its board of directors. For more, keep up with him at or on Twitter as @ProfessorAdMan.

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In June 2019, IMCA introduced its Icon Award to recognize insurance marketing leaders. These are people whose strategy, energy, and strong performance provides an inspiring example of how marketing and communications can advance an insurance organization’s business and elevate the standard for exceptional work through innovation, creativity, and impact in the marketplace. 

In just six years, Mike Stahl turned a field-based agency into one of the largest independent health insurance agencies in the United States. Much of Mike’s success stems from his decision to strategically integrate data and technology into sales and marketing. Equally important, rather than steering clear of a controversial industry issue—health care reform—Mike embraced it, creating an innovative program that gives consumers a voice in the health care debate. His leadership, entrepreneurial thinking, and intense customer focus are what earned him IMCA’s inaugural Icon Award.

Challenging times
When Mike joined what was then Insphere Insurance Solutions in April 2013, the company faced two significant challenges: 1) The future of the health insurance industry was uncertain due to potential government reform, and 2) Insphere was recovering from negative public opinion following resolved regulatory issues and litigation. Due to these issues, consumer confidence and customer satisfaction scores were at an all-time low.

While other insurance agencies were taking a wait-and-see approach to health care reform, Mike saw the opportunity in a market on the cusp of transformation and expansion. The Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which required most Americans to have health insurance meeting certain requirements, went into effect in 2013. In addition, the Medicare market was just starting to see the impact of approximately 10,000 Baby Boomers aging into eligibility every day. Mike recognized that these two factors would increase the number of consumers looking to purchase individual coverage.     

Mike moved quickly to reposition the company so it could take advantage of these opportunities. He began by creating a new corporate identity. In October 2013, Insphere was rebranded as HealthMarkets, a clear and simple name that made it easy to understand what the agency sold. He identified a new brand promise—Choice, Convenience and Counsel—and relaunched the company’s website to focus on consumers, rather than corporate investors and employees, who had been the company’s previous audience. To counter negative impressions of the agency, Mike implemented a robust digital reputation management program.

To deliver on the company’s new brand promise, Mike built out a branded, multi-channel marketing campaign and integrated it seamlessly into the agency’s field operations. This gave consumers a choice in how, where, and when they purchased coverage. After conducting research and getting a quote online, consumers could either complete the transaction or meet with a HealthMarkets agent in person or over the phone.

Opportunities were also created for agents through a new storefront program that provided agents, who traditionally worked from home, the ability to open a HealthMarkets branded office without the expense of purchasing a franchise. Not only did this program provide agents with more opportunities for lead generation and increased earning potential, it also gave consumers another way to connect with a local agent as well as help expand HealthMarkets’ footprint and promote the brand in local communities.

Strategic use of technology
Mike’s visionary use of data and technology propelled the company to even greater success. In his second year at HealthMarkets, he led the development of proprietary solutions that deliver consumer calls to local field agents in real time, matching consumers with the nearest agent, based on their area and ZIP code. This technology also delivers lead alerts to agents that include the consumers’ digital behaviors and populate the agent’s lead database with third-party life event data, which has led to dramatically increased marketing-attributable sales.

Another agent-focused innovation is AgentConnect, a mobile app that manages the agent’s prospects and customers in a secure, HIPAA-compliant environment. Agents can use the tool to compare real-time quotes and create proposals. The app also allows them to share a virtual business card with consumers. Since the recipient can easily forward the card to friends and family, the tool can increase agent referrals as well.

When Mike identified yet another opportunity within the health care market turmoil, his impact as HealthMarkets’ CMO went beyond his company, extending to the entire health insurance industry. He believed that HealthMarkets should develop an unbiased platform to serve as a bridge between both sides of the health care reform debate. Under his direction, the company created a nonpartisan forum for consumers to engage in a positive discussion about health care insurance and potential marketplace solutions.

The center of the program, which launched in early 2017, is the OurCare website.[AH2]  The site lets consumers draft their own health care reform bill using the site’s Build Your Own Bill (BYOB) tool. The first of its kind, the tool allows consumers—regardless of their political view—to have a say in health care legislation. Through a straightforward questionnaire, consumers input their preferences regarding the U.S. health care system, which creates a sample “bill.” They can then share their bill with their social networks and with legislators—or even tweet it to the President. A Facebook page and Twitter feed complement the website.

To date, U.S. consumers have built more than 6,000 health care bills through, with many taking additional action to share their completed bills directly with congressional representatives or President Trump. The #OurCare Call to Action video has been seen more than 63,000 times.

#OurCare has been featured in more than 240 news outlets, including national and regional broadcast, print, and online media outlets. Mike and other #OurCare representatives were interviewed as experts in the health care industry by outlets such as the Houston Chronicle, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Larry Elder Radio Show, and the Tom Joyner Morning Show.

As the health care insurance market evolves, Mike will continue to respond with customer-centric, innovative solutions. He has set the bar high for future Icon Award winners.

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By Valerie Foster

IMCA has been an integral part of my insurance market career. Through the conferences I’ve attended and committees I’ve served on, I’ve witnessed the difference this association has made to so many insurance marketers and communicators. As your chair, I wanted to see that value-added experience to continue and strengthen.

Like many of you, I first learned about IMCA when I was new to our industry. I was looking to learn from people who did what I did — only with more industry experience. At a PLUS (Professional Liability Underwriting Society) conference I spoke with several marketing people from other carriers, who pointed me in IMCA’s direction. I’m so thankful they did.

One of the biggest benefits that I’ve received from IMCA is the advice and guidance that fellow members have generously given to me. Over the years, they’ve given me advice about new marketing concepts, products, vendors. They’ve offered possible solutions to marketing and communications issues I’ve faced.

When I was new in my position, I needed help finding out more about a technology platform that I had little experience with. My IMCA “tribe” really came through. Members offered me demos of how that platform operated within their companies. They explained how they used the technology and who they worked with to get it integrated with other platforms and systems within their companies. In a short period of time — 90 days — I was able to create a strategic marketing communications plan for the platform’s use within my company. My IMCA tribe helped me to look like a true insurance marketing rock star.

Looking ahead

The IMCA executive team, board and I have several strategic priorities for 2019-2020, which I’d like to share with you.

First, is to provide a points of connection between marketing and communications people in the industry through webinars, regional meetings, our annual conference and other events. I’d like to see us engage with all levels of insurance marketing and communications professionals, from those individuals just entering the insurance industry, through senior leadership.

Next, we are aiming to create an IMCA CMO council. This will provide a platform for the insurance industry CMOs to engage with each other and share thoughts, insights and best practices with IMCA members. With the support of our executive team and board members, IMCA Executive Vice Chair, Chris Nance and board member Peter Van Aartijk are heading up this initiative.

Another strategic priority is to evaluate our current annual conference structure and explore options to improve your conference experience to best meet ever-evolving member needs. We want to provide a relevant experience and help our members to connect with each other in meaningful ways.

We also will continue to enhance the recognition of outstanding insurance industry marketing and communications professionals’ through the Icon and Rising Star awards. We can elevate the recognition of the outstanding marketing and communications work done in the insurance industry by continuously recognizing and promoting the 2019 SAMMY winner and IMCA Showcase Award winners. Let’s encourage other industry professionals, including nonmembers, to enter/submit their best marketing and communications work for the opportunity to be considered the best of the best in insurance marketing and communications.

This association is our members. If your day job is marketing and/or communicating for a company or organization in the insurance industry, this is your place, these are your people.  We are your tribe.

Valerie Foster became IMCA’s Executive Chair in September 2019. She has served on the association’s board of directors since 2013. Valerie is vice president, director of marketing for Berkley Alliance Managers, a Berkley Company.

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By Dave Gordon

First impressions are lasting impressions, sometimes longer than you would like. When workplace or industry colleagues have an outdated impression of you, it can undermine your credibility and hold you back in your career.

Fortunately, as marketers, we’re familiar with how branding/rebranding can reposition a company or product in the marketplace. If your personal brand is out-of-date, it might be time to rebrand yourself and introduce these colleagues to the new you.

When colleagues cling to an outdated impression of what you have to offer professionally, there’s a gap between how you’re viewed and how you want to be viewed. Your challenge is to close that gap.

During my presentation at the 2019 IMCA Annual Conference in Minneapolis, I asserted that you’re always being labeled. So what do you want your new label to say? Start by thinking about what you do now from what you did in the past. Or perhaps you’re doing more of something. We’re working in an era of focus and specialization. In order to be effective, your new label needs to be focused and specific as well.

Successful personal brands have four components:

  • Identity — who you are and what you stand for
  • Communications — what you say, and how you connect
  • Actions — what you do, frequently and with consistency
  • Unique Value — how you make a difference

If you’ve previously created a purpose statement, it’s time to revisit and update it. Your updated statement should align with your current role and responsibilities. Using the “I help people…” template, what are some of the new ways that you’re helping?

Your actions need to support your personal brand. If they don’t, you’re your own worst enemy because you’re undermining your rebranding campaign. Look for opportunities to demonstrate your new skills and responsibilities with colleagues who still see you as the old you.

Successful communication is less about what you say and more about what is heard. How does your audience respond to you?  You need to be clear and consistent in how you communicate and in your personal messaging. It’s your responsibility to communicate the best of who you are. Be confident enough to say, “I do more than that. Here’s what I do now…”

Once you identified your new personal brand, you need to have 2-3 signature stories that tell your new brand story.

  • Who is the new you? This is your new value. You are what you stand for.
  • Why am I still here? This is why I continue to work for this company. This should be aligned with your company’s purpose, mission and values.
  • Who I help now. This is your most important story. It’s a case study for the new you. This should be in line with your unique value.

Rebranding a company is a process that takes careful planning and execution. It doesn’t happen overnight. So be patient and consistent in your personal rebranding campaign. The rewards are worth it.

Dave Gordon is chief marketing officer at Gallagher Bassett. He is also a motivational speaker, and the author of the soon to be launched business book TIP – A Simple Strategy to Inspire High Performance and Lasting Success. To learn more about dave you can connect on LinkedIn, follow on Twitter @davegordon_9, or go to his website

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As marketers, we’re often catalysts for change. To borrow from a 2017 article on, change management is the new marketing capability.

One of the highlights of IMCA’s 2019 Annual Conference was a panel discussion on navigating change in your marketing career. IMCA board members Anna Hargis, Rachel Harris and Angela Kim provided insight into how they’ve successfully effected and responded to change in their careers. Following is a recap of selected remarks our panelists made during this discussion.

How are you challenging perhaps a more stagnant viewpoint within your company, or using your role to challenge old practices?

Rachel Harris (RH): One of the biggest traps I’ve seen companies fall into with regards to marketing is just doing what they’ve always done… I think this is one of the biggest ways that we, as marketers, can make a difference in our organizations, is by challenging these “safe practices” and thinking out of the box, trying new things and taking risks… I continually look for ways to help our company stay fresh and relevant — keeping our marketing strategy fluid instead of static is key.

Angela Kim (AK): Gallagher has always been a sales-driven firm that had been highly successful without true, strategic marketing. Our CMO arrived 2 years ago, which has been a complete game changer for Gallagher. He has transformed leadership’s viewpoint on marketing by demonstrating the benefits of integrating sales and marketing… We now have divisional marketing teams responsible for lead generation and cross sell through integrated marketing campaigns, something Gallagher hadn’t done before. 

Anna Hargis (AH): Shelter Insurance has put a specific focus on innovation for the past couple of years. Our leaders are encouraging everyone to think outside the box when possible. We’re thinking about and focusing on innovation across the board. We found out late last year that a lead generation opportunity we’ve provided our agents for many years was going to end. I put together a group of vendors to review and one of them had a solution that was very different from what we had been doing. I ended up presenting that option as our solution, and leadership thought it looked great.  We’re building it all out now and plan to launch in the fall. 

What is your perspective on working with peers or other generations within your company? 

AK: The producers I work with range from seasoned, 30+ year sales professionals to straight out-of-college, young producers who are green and eager to pound the pavement. I find myself needing to adjust how I work with different generations. For the older generation, I tend to pick up the phone or walk to their office to have a face-to-face conversation whereas I email younger producers. You have to pick up on their preferred style of communication. 

AH: I’m a Gen Xer — one of the early ones — and many of the stereotypes do apply to me.  I never had a problem working with Baby Boomers but spent the first years of my career thinking “we could do this differently.” I remember when we got our first desktop PCs — and the early days of email —how exciting it all was while my baby boomer boss wasn’t thrilled. Now I find I’m one  of the “more mature” folks in the room and while I love technology, I’m not an early adopter any more. 

Have you made any mistakes or had regrets in your career, which you’ve since overcome? 

AH: I made what I thought was a big mistake with my budget early in my career. I missed budgeting for one large item. I can remember the terrible feeling when I found the error and then had to tell my boss. I went to him with a solution — which is always a good approach to handling mistakes, and I’ll never forget what he told me. He said that perfection isn’t a job requirement for any of us. He encouraged me to look for ways to prevent something similar happening in the future, but he didn’t want me to continue to beat myself up about it. He liked my solution to fixing the problem, so we did that and his encouragement really helped me.  

RH: I think the biggest regrets for me, both in life and my career, are the things I haven’t done, rather than the things I have. There were definitely times, especially in my early career years, where I didn’t speak up in a meeting, and wished I had, or where I didn’t share an idea, when I should have — and someone else usually thinks of it later. I’ve learned that it’s important to be bold, and to step out and take a risk, and to say something, or present an idea, or share your opinion, even if it takes some courage — and even if the idea never comes to fruition. It’s important to know and see your value, and to use your voice when you have the opportunity. 

Do you have any advice for someone who is looking for a career change, is looking for guidance in expanding their current role or is just beginning their career in insurance marketing? 

AK: Make networking part of your professional DNA. You never know who will tap you on the shoulder for a job opportunity…  Having a mentor — both within your company and outside — is also critical in advancing your career.  My former company had a formal mentor/mentee program, that provided structure on when to meet with your mentor/mentee. From there, relationships naturally developed and I’ve maintained most of my relationships.  

AH: My advice is to really weigh options and alternatives — and think about what I call your personal risk meter. There are times in your life when you can take on more risk — such as switching companies. For years my risk meter score was very low — I had a young child and other family matters that didn’t lend themselves to making a career move.  As those factors change, the risk meter score can move up.  I’d encourage a self-evaluation asking yourself the key questions like “what would I do if the opportunity ended?” Think worst case scenario and go from there.

How do you manage a work/life balance? How do you avoid burnout and practice self-care? 

RH: I’ve had a few wise people tell me that there is no such thing as work life balance — it’s more about work/life management. Instead of trying to “balance” something that can never truly be balanced, it’s more important to think of it in terms of how to “manage” both work and life. I’ve learned that managing your work and life effectively means that it’s important to take time for yourself, every day if you can, to do things that make you happy, and make you feel fulfilled, and are, most importantly, separate from work. 

AH: I’m a work in progress for this. I’ve had to take my work home on weekends or evenings and explain to my teenage son that sometimes a work/life balance means that work has to take precedence. On the other hand, when he or my husband need me – I’m there. I read something recently that spoke to paying attention in the moment, and I’m trying to do that. I’m actively listening to what my family members are saying and asking follow up questions to further engage when possible.

AK: I make it a priority to make time for myself. It’s a non-negotiable. Gallagher has a free gym for employees with classes throughout the day. I take the 4:45 p.m. classes, and my colleagues (and boss) know that I’m down at the gym at this time. They respect my time because I stand firm on making sure it’s a priority. Of course if circumstances arise where there are meetings in the evening, I adjust. But overall, don’t compromise what’s important to you.

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One of the highlight’s of the 2019 IMCA Annual Conference in Minneapolis was John Bell’s presentation, “Marketing in the Age of the Connected Customer.” Following the conference, John, vice president, Enterprise Digital Marketing at Travelers, has provided IMCA with these additional insights into effectively leveraging customer data. According to John, data is the key to a personalized, customer-centric marketing approach.

From a marketing perspective, what does a data-driven culture look like?

“Data-driven” means that as marketers, we look for every opportunity to inform our strategy, tactics and operations with data that reveals what is really important and effective for our customers. Our creative hunches are no longer enough, the anecdotal observation from the sales person is not enough, the formative customer research we did at the beginning is not enough. Now we can look at performance data in real time to understand what content resonates best with our audience, what offer triggers the most action, what our customers are actually saying to us via digital channels about what they want. A data-driven culture is one where you adopt a new data-rich, shared vocabulary. That means everyone knows what different data points mean and which KPIs matter. There should be habits within the group where you come together to discuss and interpret data — to really arrive at the insights. Without these habits, data may not be put to practical use or the wrong use. 

What can insurance marketers do to get better data from their business partners in IT and business intelligence?

Marketers have to be clear about what data they need to do their job. Too often, the most obvious gap is sales data. If you want to understand how marketing “sells,” you need access to contemporary sales data. To understand how marketing drives acquisition of new customers or policies per account with existing customers or even retention, we need to be able to segment that data in a number of ways. For example, to really see marketing’s impact you may choose to focus your marketing effort in a particular region or with select accounts. Getting sales data parsed that way is critical.

Beyond detailed performance data of websites and other channels like social and paid media, marketers need rich customer data to start to understand how to personalize their marketing efforts. There really is no end to this need. It requires dedicated data analysts for marketing who can consistently work to try personalized approaches to content, offers and experiences and detect their effect. More and more companies — whether carriers or brokers — understand that facility with customer data will be key to serving those customers well into the future.

How can marketers drive insight and action?

Marketers must be experts at gleaning customer insights and putting them to use. Marketing is inherently a customer-centered discipline. That is useful in an industry like insurance that  is increasingly moving towards putting the customer first. Understanding what the emotional and rational drivers are for a consumer or a business person to choose an agency or a carrier is a marketer’s job. This means using traditional research methods — qualitative and quantitative — as well as more nimble, new research methods like Internet surveys, user-testing and even test-marketing an offer via Facebook ads. Uncovering why a consumer chooses on insurance company over another can guide marketing and selling strategy, content and offers. It can all be tested to ratify the effectiveness of these insights. 

What are some of the biggest challenges that insurance companies face in terms of customer data stewardship?

Every company, whether an insurance carrier or an ecommerce operation or a consumer product goods company, starts by working to ensure the privacy and protection of its customers’ data. This is table stakes and one reason cyber insurance solutions are so popular today. Beyond protection, carriers have the same challenge as many companies — how to deliver increasing value to the customer based upon the data the customer volunteers. People need to feel the value of the exchange. Many ecommerce companies like Amazon deliver that value in the form of increased personalization and relevant offers and experience. Carriers are working on the same concept —how to deliver more personalized recommendations, services and products. The additional challenge that carriers and brokers share is the joint stewardship of the customer. How can they work together to deliver increasing value to the end customer in ways that are seamless to that customer?

John Bell is vice president, Enterprise Digital Marketing at Travelers. John’s conference presentation is available to IMCA members.

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Reaching your target audience is key to a successful marketing campaign. So what do you do when your target audience consists of parents and students at 10 Southeastern colleges?

In a digital lead-generation campaign, the Gallagher Global Brokerage Marketing team was able to successfully promote college student personal property coverage to parents (primary audience) and students (secondary). Over a two-month period, this marketing program generated more than 11x ROI for the company’s Southeast region.

Geofencing, a location-based marketing tool, is what allowed Gallagher to reach a micro-target audience with this short time period.

Geofencing uses global positioning (GPS) or radio frequency identification (RFID) to define a virtual border. Whenever someone crosses into a geofenced area, that triggers a pre-programmed message to their mobile device. Gallagher had previously used geofencing for event marketing and conference campaigns.

The Gallagher marketing team developed social media ads for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which reached parents and students at the 10 targeted schools. Digital programmatic banner ads within the geofenced markets ran during key dates, such as move-in day and parents weekend. A :15 second video spot was developed for social and programmatic advertising.

With cell phones, tablets and laptops, today’s college students own expensive technology that didn’t exist when their parents went to school. Campaign content highlighted that student personal liability insurance covered damage losses — for example, a beverage spilling on a laptop or a dropped phone  — which aren’t typically aren’t recoverable under a homeowner’s policy. The campaign also emphasized that the policy was affordable and offered lower deductibles than most homeowner’s coverage.  

Gallagher’s strategy resulted in 938,000 impressions, a 2.89% click-through rate and an impressive 6.55% conversion rate. With all roads leading to Gallagher’s landing page,, more than 1,700 transactions were completed online. Based on this success, the company expanded this campaign to 20 schools across the country for the “Back to School” push beginning in August 2019. For the same date range, they have received 20% more transactions per day, year over year.

Gallagher’s innovative campaign won the Best of Show for the Digital/Marketing Campaign category and the SAMMY Award at IMCA’s 2019 conference.

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It’s an innocent but frustrating request.

“Can I get a sell sheet?”

However you refer to it, the sell sheet — also known as a one-pager, slick, flyer or handout — continues to be a standby marketing piece in the insurance industry. It neatly summarizes a product or service’s salient selling points. You can co-brand it with a business partner’s logo and even include personalized contact information. It’s easy to email or hand out at a booth. It’s the all-purpose tool in the marketing tool box.

The sell sheet’s versatility and ease of use is a primary reason why it has turned into a crutch for many underwriters and producers. They can lift copy from the sell sheet and cut-and-paste it into an email. They can easily convert bulleted coverage features into talking points for a phone conversation or bullet points on a PowerPoint slide. Because marketing creates the piece, and legal approves it (depending on the company), people feel safe using the copy.

The crutch-factor is part of what makes us as marketers cringe when the inevitable request comes in. There’s nothing strategic about this often last-minute request.

“The sell sheet is a default tactic because everyone knows what it is,” explains Angela Kim, Regional Director, Gallagher, and an IMCA board member. “Or we’ll get a request to update an existing sell sheet and the producer wants the same type of piece because that’s the way it’s always been done.”

When faced with this situation, Angela and her marketing colleagues try to determine why the producer is requesting a sell sheet. Once they’ve uncovered the true need, they can offer a better alternative. Angela recalls one situation where the original request for a copy-heavy printed sell sheet for a conference evolved into an infographic that more effectively explained the concept. In another situation, a request for a piece that listed risk control services turned into a digital heatmap of a warehouse that exposed the risk and offered solutions to mitigate it.

Olga Levin, Director of Marketing and Communications for Allstate Business Insurance agrees that uncovering the real need is the way to go.

“Marketers hate sell sheets because they’re not strategic and we can’t measure their value,” she says. “Creating them takes time away from activities that provide more value and can drive the business.”

Like Angela, Olga first determines the problem that needs to be solved. Once her team has an understanding of the true need, their first step is to review existing materials to see if something already created could be the answer. In situations where a new piece does need to be created, Olga will often make recommendations that offer a more targeted solution, such as talking points, a pitch deck or new website landing page.

Another sell sheet challenge for insurance marketers is when the person making the request also tells you exactly what the piece MUST say no matter the copy length.

“The sell sheet is the ‘let’s-cram-everything-into-one-piece’ tactic,” jokes Angela. She recalls a situation where she finally had to flow the copy into design so the requester could see how difficult it would be to read their proposed copy in a 7 point font size.

Both Angela and Olga look upon these sell sheet requests as a chance to educate colleagues about their department’s capabilities. As Angela notes, often people making the request just aren’t aware of how much more marketing can do. Once they see the possibilities, they’re often open to new ideas. More importantly, it often changes their perception of the marketing team and leads them to see marketing as a strategic partner, rather than just a creator of sell sheets.
Pictured: Olga Levin

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Let's discuss how branding can help us make an emotional connection with agents and clients. IMCA turned to brand strategist Derrick Daye for his thoughts on why today’s brands need to make an emotional connection with agents and clients.

Human-centered or human-centric seems to be the new marketing buzzword. What does human-centric branding look like?

Brands that operate at the human-centric level enjoy deeper connections and earn a lasting place in people’s lives. We have many metrics to support this now. Therefore, it’s imperative to build the human side of your business.

At the core of every brand is its reason for being, its purpose. Purpose is the difference that a brand makes in people’s lives. It’s the answer to a human need and — when strong enough — the catalyst for lasting relationships. 

As trust has eroded with institutions and legacy organizations, we are seeing brands stepping forward, filling the trust void and becoming the catalysts for connection and community. By recognizing that the world needs the warmth of human-centric brands you can set out to adopt human qualities to attract customers in the human-centric era.

For forward-thinking brands the concept is well beyond the buzzword and is a way of life.

Why is it harder to make that emotional connection in B2B marketing?

B2B brands have different drivers than consumer brands. No one makes a solo decision to buy or hire a B2B brand. Typically, there are multiple decision-makers involved, each with their own specific areas of responsibility and priority. As a result, the decision to use a B2B brand is often strongly influenced by track record, responsiveness, knowledge and, of course, reputation.

It’s tempting to believe B2B brands lack emotion because they are subject to highly logical decisions. That’s not the case.  B2B is purchased emotionally as well as logically. However, the emotions for buying B2B are very different from those of consumer brands. For the most part, B2B brands need to focus on risk alleviation. In contrast to the excitement that consumer brands are looking to generate, B2B brands need to focus on generating emotions centered on reassurance — professionally, technically, financially, legally and of course personally (for those championing use of the brand itself).

Two other insights are worth noting. The first is that the sense of value add is most important for publicly visible products and services. Next, that the importance of a strong and recognized brand increases significantly for those products and services that are clearly visible to the end user.

Indeed it is harder to make emotional connections in B2B but it’s every bit as rewarding. An important shift must take place in the organization’s mindset in managing B2B brands. It’s the acceptance that brands have moved from B2B and B2C to B2P —  business to people.

You encourage marketers to overcommit to their brand promise. What do you mean by that?

Marketers talk about the ideas they’re committed to and are quick to tell themselves and each other that they’re doing a good job of bringing these things to market. But the numbers tell a different story. One piece of research I saw recently said that while 85 percent of brands think they’re delivering great experiences, only 15 percent of customers think they’re receiving them.

So there’s a significant gap between what brands believe they’ve committed to and what customers feel they’ve committed to. Simply put, from a customer perspective the evidence isn’t there. Over-commitment is just that, going beyond the delivery of the brand’s promise. That requires identifying new ways to reinforce and keep the promise. The more evidence, the more trust.

Take your customer’s journey. Over-commit at every point and in every moment of customer contact.

In your recent IMCA webinar, you stated that insurance companies don’t have a license to be boring. So what can they do to not feel so stale?

Today, no one has a license to be boring; brands have to be interesting or else. In an increasingly over-communicated society, brands are either noise or a signal. GEICO, for example, proved that humor and personality could create and drive an advantage, others eventually followed.

Brands are the sum of all experiences a customer has with you. With that in mind, a good exercise is to think about how you want your customers to remember your brand and find creative ways to reinforce that. The process should eliminate the dull areas in the experience. What counts is what gets remembered.

For more of Derrick’s thoughts on brand, listen to his recorded IMCA webinar, Brand Leadership in an Age of Disruption.

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This article first appeared in Insurance Journal

By Leslie Lash

Marketing is inherently a competitive space. Our sole purpose is to drive revenue; some may disagree, but fundamentally, every activity a marketing department performs should be to support their firm’s business objectives (read: make money) through marketing strategies. Period.

Meeting this objective takes many forms. We use terms like brand equity, customer journey, omni-channel, earned media and so on, evoking the occasional eye-roll from our non-marketing peers who simply don’t speak our language.

Marketing is the closest role you can get to sales without actually being in sales (which is fantastic, because most of us don’t want to be). We’re creative and passionate, and we love seeing our visions come to life, like the inspiring video that drove social traffic through the roof or the big account we landed thanks to a killer presentation deck.

We like to win. We want to win.

The bitter truth is that most marketing departments don’t get the recognition they deserve because their work is usually anonymous. There are no closing credits at the end of a knock-your-socks-off explainer video or a wildly successful pay-per-click campaign.

One way that marketing teams can shift this reality is through entering and winning marketing and communications award competitions. Here’s why I’m a huge advocate for these programs.

1. It’s an amazing morale booster for your team.

Most marketing departments in the insurance industry have relatively few employees, and they don’t always scale alongside their company’s growth. They’re expected to do more with less, which can sometimes wear on teams that may not have a marketing agency to lean on for guidance or support.

So much of what marketing departments do is behind the scenes, and the employees don’t always have a sense for how their work fits into the broader marketing landscape. In my experience leading marketing teams, winning an awards competition can boost your employees’ morale tremendously. Knowing their work is top-tier provides a sense of pride and pep in their step that is tough to replicate.

2. It’s a great resume builder.

I encourage everyone, including those on my own team, to celebrate their award-winning status on their resumes and LinkedIn profiles. Unless you are truly a team of one, no single person contributes to the success of a project or campaign by themselves, and everyone should feel good about their role in winning the award. If you’re a confident leader, you won’t squash this public declaration of enthusiasm. Does it look intriguing to other employers scouring LinkedIn for recruits? Absolutely. If you’re taking care of your employees and keep pushing them to win – and celebrate those wins – they won’t want to leave you anyway.

3. It encourages more thorough project planning and performance analysis.

There are plenty of marketing professionals who will reluctantly admit that for some projects, creative takes priority over analytics. Sometimes making a big splash that wows audiences is what drives us, and we lose sight of the bigger picture.

When it comes to awards competitions, fancy creative without results doesn’t always cut it, especially on digital campaigns. Judges are looking for a combination of creativity, impact, relevance, and ROI. Earlier in my career, I’d scrounge up as many stats as I could to satisfy judges who wanted to understand how my entry performed. It’s always tough to get post-competition feedback from judges who remind you that marketing without substance is basically fluff.

We must measure. Not just to win awards, but to show value and see what’s working (and what’s not). As far as awards competitions go, if the results aren’t great, but the team worked like crazy on it, consider submitting it anyway. Remember, judges are looking for a combination of creativity, impact, relevance, and ROI. Sometimes the numbers just aren’t there, but a huge part of marketing is learning and adapting and getting better. That’s a result worth mentioning.

4. It helps build the legitimacy of marketing in your own organization.

Depending on the size of the company and management support of marketing operations, marketers can get lost in the mix. With hands in lots of different areas, marketing teams may get dubbed the “arts and crafts” or “party planning” department or some other subtle indication that marketing isn’t a real job. We laugh it off, but deep down, it bums us out because we know how hard we work hard to make everyone else look good.

When you win marketing award competitions, especially those specific to the insurance industry, opinions start to shift. You prove that you’re the real deal and others know it. You walk a little taller, and your peers take notice. Suddenly, they’re celebrating your success too and realizing how critical the marketing function is to the company.

5. It’s a cost-effective form of public relations, but beware of “pay-to-play” competitions.

There are countless marketing and communications awards competitions out there. Most are not specific to the insurance industry, so it’s important to consider the companies (and budgets) you may be up against if you choose to enter a competition with a broad scope.

Most legitimate award competitions require a fee to enter; a reasonable expectation is $125 to $300 per entry. For some competitions, costs start to rise once you win. You might be required to pay for promotional tools, such as an award logo for your website. It is reasonable to receive an invitation to an event (for additional cost) during which you receive a physical award and recognition. However, attendance at this event should not be required to win the award. In short, unless you feel strongly about participating, you should avoid any competition that feels like a “pay-to-play” situation.

Since entering competitions can be time-consuming and costly, the key is to be selective. Look for organizations that will provide you with tools and resources to promote your win without additional expense. If you win, the result is an inexpensive form of PR and great content for social media and your website’s news section.

I am a long-time supporter of the Insurance Marketing Communications Association (IMCA) annual showcase awards program because not only is it specific to the insurance industry, but entries are 100% peer-judged. That means other insurance marketers and communicators are giving their seal of approval.

Winning awards competitions is not only gratifying for your marketing team and company, but it is also an excellent opportunity to develop emotional connections between your audience and your brand. When customers see your employees caring about the quality of their work and celebrating success, it reinforces the positive impression those customers have about working with your company.

Leslie Lash is the Senior Vice President, Director of Marketing for The American Equity Underwriters, Inc., the leading provider of longshore workers’ compensation to waterfront employers. She has 14 years of strategic marketing, communications, advertising and brand management experience in the specialty insurance industry. She serves on the board of directors for the Insurance Marketing Communications Association (IMCA). 

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This article first appeared in Insurance Business America

By Emily Hathcoat

Any relationship takes work. Your marketing department’s relationship with its advertising agency or design firm is no exception.

In a good relationship, your agency responds to campaign requests with several creative options, helps solve business challenges and produces projects on time and on budget. A great relationship is one where the agency — with your help — develops a working understanding of your business and understands its corporate culture. They become an integral part of your marketing team. Not only do they help you solve business challenges, they anticipate them.

So what does it take to turn a good working relationship into a great one? In conversations I’ve had with my insurance marketing and agency colleagues, two of the themes that came through were trust and collaboration.

“When there is mutual trust between an agency and the customer, then you know the agency is recommending two or three great options to meet business needs and goals,” says Paula Negro, director of advertising, communications and media relations at Starr Insurance Companies, as well as a board member of the Insurance Marketing Communications Association (IMCA). “They’re realistic in their guidance and aren’t creative for creativity’s sake but rather because it makes business sense.”

Your agency partners value trust in a working relationship as much as you do. It’s what makes them feel comfortable in bringing you their best ideas.

Beth Roth, owner of design firm Thrive Creative, believes that trust allows clients to take that leap of faith that can lead to something great. “Everyone is afraid of change so you can’t try something new unless you trust the person who is trying to lead you down that path.”  

Anna Hargis, director of advertising at Shelter Insurance, agrees that trust leads to better marketing ideas.

“My agencies are valued partners so I want to hear what they have to say,” says Hargis, who also serves on the IMCA board. “We don’t have a monopoly on good ideas so it’s important to get feedback and share ideas.”

Collaboration also makes the difference between a good and great relationship. In a good relationship, an agency works for you. In a great one, your agency collaborates with your marketing team. But collaboration doesn’t always mean agreement.

“Often the best projects result from situations where my client and I challenge each other,” explains Roth. “You need a certain type of relationship to do that on either side.”

In a professional relationship built on trust and collaboration, as you work together over the long-term, your department and your agency care equally about the company. Hargis wants her agencies to have long-term teams in place because, “Those individuals go from knowing our brand to caring about our brand.”

Negro agrees, recalling a 75th anniversary program at a company she worked at several years ago. The company’s agency responded to what she needed, and offered additional on-target program ideas, because, “They took as much pride in our 75 years as we did.”

If you’re ready to go from good to great, approach your agency about a relationship relaunch. Be candid about what’s working and what’s not. Be open to their feedback and be willing to let down your guard. It takes many hands to move the needle and your marketing team can’t do it alone.

Emily Hathcoat has worked in insurance marketing for more than 15 years. She is currently vice president, marketing, at Risk Placement Services and chair of the Insurance Marketing & Communications Association (IMCA).

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